Archive. Football. Statistic & History
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Column #68

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-01-15 16:16:34

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
I was watching a video about versions — seasons — of Lionel Messi. The video was very well done, by the way. I've seen Lionel Messi's entire career, so I'll comment on the main versions of him and which one was, in my opinion, the best. I'll start by highlighting the following seasons for the Argentine: 2010/11, 2011/12, 2014/15, 2018/19.
In chronological order, starting with the 2010/11 season, the peak of Guardiola's F.C. Barcelona, a team which had a completely beautiful and effective football. In that system, Lionel Messi, in a standard tactical organization, played in the center of the attack, with Pedro and Villa on the sides. Even playing more centrally, Messi tended to go to the right side, more to the inside forward position, reminiscent of the positioning of Friedrich Gschweidl for First Vienna.
This version featured a much more dynamic Lionel Messi, faster, with several dribbling sequences. He was a player capable of going from right to left dribbling a high amount of players along the way. This was a more individualistic version of Messi, I often saw Messi choosing the dribble instead of passing the ball to a better placed teammate. However, even if, compared to his more scientific versions — the most recent versions — and even though he was even more individualistic, Messi was still a very creative and passing player. If in 2010/11 he had the knowledge, the perception of scientific football that he has today, the Argentinian star would certainly have even more assists – which is impressive, as Messi's number of assists in 2010/11 is very high.
The 2010/11 version was quite iconic, largely because it was considered by many to be the pinnacle of F.C. Barcelona, in addition, of course, due to the outstanding performances of Lionel Messi, mainly in the later stages of the UEFA Champions League.
Moving on to the next version of Lionel Messi, the 2011/12 version, a version long remembered in the popular mind as a more statistically exceptional version, completely outside the norm. I remember several moments of Messi in the 2011/12 season: the La Liga matches were incredible, the Spanish Super Cup, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League were being phenomenal until both clashes against Chelsea. If Barcelona had won — and were the main favorites — the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League, surely this version of Messi would be better remembered.
The 2011/12 Lionel Messi, as mentioned above, was marked by the statistics. Messi, however, due to the system that featured Fàbregas constantly in the starting line-up, was not as creative a player, as inserted in the preparation of the play in other blocks in 2011/12. Messi provided more assists than in 2010/11, yes indeed, but assists are only the last pass to the teammate's direct goal. The Argentine wasn't as involved in the lower blocks of the team, he wasn't orchestrating as much and controlling the rhythm, Messi was much more positioned as the man of the last pass, but not of creation in general. This contributed to the star's high number of goals, especially in 2012.
The 2014/15 version was interesting to say the least. After the 2013/14 season, Messi presents a more complete offensive version. He, moreover, returns to the position of right winger, despite his habit of centralizing, to stay a little behind Luis Suárez. This version of Messi, in terms of the general characteristics of an attacking player, featured more variations in his style of play: long balls looking for Neymar or Jordi Alba, a more scientific style, precise free-kicks, and better use of his right foot, according to Messi himself. He was still much slimmer than compared to his previous versions, particularly 2013/14.
It is good to remember that the F.C. Barcelona in 2014/15 didn't have a better first half than in other versions, mainly for the brilliant team of 2010/11 and, yes, 2013/14 — the one that started exceptionally well, but lost its rhythm in 2014. It was in the match against Real Sociedad in Anoeta that everything changed for that team during 2014/15.
Of course, this was a Messi less dynamic than in previous versions, but wiser, more intelligent in each move, in addition to having a greater repertoire. I remember several iconic moments and performances: broken records in La Liga, UEFA Champions League, the incredible performance against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final, etc. Indeed, there are excellent arguments to place this version of Messi as his best. He managed to unite most of the aspects of previous versions and a new arsenal, an arsenal that is much more involved with the game; thus presenting a much more creative and organized Messi for his team.
The last version of Lionel Messi that I highlight, at least those mentioned above, is the 2018/19 version. This version is less dynamic, less electrifying than the previous ones. However, Messi was still one of the best dribblers in the world, perhaps the best dribbler in the world. Messi, already in the second half of the 2010s, changed his style from dynamism to more strategic and precise dribbling – it would be a kind of change from David Jack to Alex James. The Argentine, moreover, was still very complete, even more perfect in free kicks and with a football that was much more tactical, more scientific than in his previous versions. Unlike 2014/15, this version of Messi played more centrally.
In addition to the high performance that Lionel Messi showed in 2018/19, the fact that Barcelona was not as good as before — and far from it, in fact — makes Messi's whole job more difficult. Barcelona was much more dependent on their main star than before, as the team failed to perform to what was truly expected. CONCLUSION
I think this is a matter of preference. I've seen the best versions of Lionel Messi — which are comparable to the peaks of the greatest players of all-time. It is clear that the main part of Messi's career is the Pep Guardiola era. However, overall, what was Lionel Messi's best performance in just one season?
Honestly, to this day I believe that, from what I've seen, the most complete version of Messi was the 2014/15. The 2018/19 season was the one on which Barcelona most depended on him, as a whole. The 2011/12 season was Messi's most incisive. I, however, have always found the 2010/11 season to be the most spectacular, the most iconic, the best I've seen from Lionel Messi.
And you, dear reader, what was the best version of Lionel Messi you saw?
I would like to leave an addendum here: The current Messi — 2022/23 — started the season in an extraordinary way, whether in domestic competitions or in the UEFA Champions League. He, moreover, performed brilliantly at the World Cup, and his performances were the main point for the Argentine team to win the third star. If Messi maintains the football level of the second half of 2022 and becomes very decisive in the main matches of the UEFA Champions League, depending, of course, on the level of performance, this Lionel Messi of 2022/23 could be, and at 35 years old, the best career version of the Argentine genius. The most iconic, without a doubt, this season already is, as Messi won, and in a biblical way, an exceptional outcome, the greatest tournament of all-time.